CBIC Makes Virtual Hearings Also Compulsory for GST Appeal Cases

The GST officials have been asked to conduct virtual GST hearings in appeal cases by following the social distancing norms. The Central Board of Indirect Taxes (CBIC) has directed the use of video conferencing means to dispose of the pending GST appeal cases speedily. 

The CBIC wrote a letter to the Principal Chief Commissioners on 21st August 2020 on this behalf. The revised guidelines cover all forms of indirect taxation. The directions have been given in compliance with the Suo Moto Writ (Civil) no. 5/2020 by the Hon’ble Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution.

The board indicated that previously, this initiative has been thriving under other indirect tax laws. The trade and field formations have acclaimed the move to be convenient and fast. Under customs law, the virtual hearings to pass adjudication orders and to conduct appellate proceedings has been fruitful. The directions were last issued in April 2020 for virtual hearings under the Customs Act, Central Excise Act and Service Tax law.

Accordingly, the board has agreed to make it mandatory for different authorities, such as the Commissioner (Appeals), the original adjudicating authorities and the compounding authority, and extending the virtual personal hearing for cases relating to Central GST (CGST) and Integrated GST (IGST). The move will be beneficial to all the stakeholders such as suppliers and recipients, importers and exporters, advocates and tax practitioners.

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The guidelines circulated by the CBIC for such virtual meetings is as follows:

  • As a first step, the authority must compulsorily indicate that the personal hearing will happen through VC along with the email address for corresponding with the parties involved. 
  • Email must be sent out for the date and time of the hearing, along with the link for VC to the appellant or respondent or the representative, and the commissioner. The link must not be disclosed to any other person without prior permission from the adjudicating or appellate authority. However, any official can represent from the department in the hearing by informing the authority beforehand.
  • A scanned copy of the vakalatnama or the authorisation letter, photo ID card, and contact details of the assessee or representative must be submitted via email to the concerned authority.
  • All the parties must be dressed appropriately and maintain the necessary decorum before the authority.
  • The adjudicating or appellate authority must be conducted from his/her office or any official video conference facility organised at his/her office.
  • The applications for VC include VIDYO or any other secured computer network. It requires the assessee or representative to download the app on his/her mobile or device and use a stable network connection as a prerequisite.
  • If the advocate of the assessee is appearing alongside him/her, prior intimation must be given to the authority. They can join from their respective offices.
  • “A record of personal hearing” is a statement prepared by the authority that summarises the submissions, claims and responses of all the parties. A softcopy of this will be sent in PDF format to the appellant via email within one day from the hearing date. It is electronically valid as per the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • Any modifications to the “record of personal hearing” can be made by the assessee or his representative within three days after the date of receipt of the statement. It must be signed by the assessee, scanned and sent back to the authority. Suppose, the assessee fails to respond within three days, it is considered that they have agreed with the contents of the record and no modification shall be allowed after that.
  • The assessee or representative is allowed to submit additional documents or submissions during the hearing. It must be self-attested, scanned and emailed to the authority within three days after the date of virtual hearing.

The above instructions apply to the proceedings under all types of indirect tax laws such as customs, excise, service tax and GST mandatorily. However, there can be exceptions when VC might not be feasible, which needs approval by the adjudicating or the appellate authority along with reasons in writing.

The CBIC must also come up with a clarification on the importance of the “record of personal hearing”. There have been instances where assessee never got back the record of personal hearing via email or any other communication means. But the authority has passed the order. Whether or not the authority can pass an order without this record in writing or shared with the assessee must be clarified at the earliest.

For any clarifications/feedback on the topic, please contact the writer at annapoorna.m@cleartax.in

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